"'Last week I had meetings with Jay Hunt, Jane Tranter, Laura Mackie, Sally Haynes and Jane Featherstone," says the veteran screenwriter, Tony Jordan (EastEnders, Hustle) with a wry laugh. "I suddenly realised I had been with some of the most powerful figures in television and they were all women. I think we're looking at some kind of conspiracy. Women are trying to take over the world, starting with television drama."
It may seem provocative to open a discussion of the role of women drama commissioners with a joke from a former market-stall trader whose writing portfolio includes some of the most memorably macho characters to appear on British screens, but the facts behind Jordan's theory are unarguable.
The commissioners of drama on all the main terrestrial networks – the people who decide what most of us will get to watch, in fact – are all women: Jane Tranter at the BBC enjoys the Orwellian title controller of fiction; Laura Mackie is ITV's head of drama; Liza Marshall, head of drama at Channel 4, works with Tessa Ross, their controller of film and drama.
To these we could add Mackie's deputy Sally Haynes, Kate Harwood, the BBC's head of series and serials, Elaine Pyke, Sky's head of drama and indie bosses such as Jane Featherstone of Kudos and Nicola Shindler of Red Productions.
Women occupy senior positions across the television industry, of course, but they seem to have made drama commissioning their special, if not exclusive territory and you don't have to suspect a global conspiracy to wonder how this has come about. Are women particularly drawn to this work? Are they better at it than men? If so, how and why? I wondered how the women themselves explain this phenomenon."
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